Let’s begin with some FUN FACTS about Authority:
- Every sentient human is subject to external authority.
- Every sentient human expects external authority to be infallible.
- There is no such thing as infallible authority.
- Every sentient human must, inevitably, confront fallibility in every authority.
- This inevitable confrontation with the impotence of authority is inherently traumatic; therefore, the subjective reaction is often riddled with intense emotion that supersedes reason.
In my last post, I described one way that humans react when confronted with the impotence of external authority. Because the experience of authority’s failure is inherently traumatic, many people choose to repress all evidence of this failure, and instead, justify authority’s worth through militant fundamentalism. Today, I would like to discuss another way that people often react when confronted with impotent authority. This alternative involves rejection and substitution.
In this scenario, a person trusts herself enough to abandon the first ill-equipped and under-performing authority structure, but she does not yet feel safe all on her own (as an autonomous subject). As a result, she quickly seeks and attaches to a secondary authority structure—often in stark opposition to the first. She needs the substitute, as its power serves as validation for the rejection of the primary authority. Now, she assumes the power of the secondary authority to be absolute, worthy of esteem, and she willingly subjects herself to its demands. In consequence, this individual, a converted adherent to a new god, adopts another fundamentalist position, in direct opposition to the first. The aim is twofold: first, she seeks to dethrone the former authority; second, she seeks to justify the power wielded by the replacement.
This is evident in #exvangelical Twitter threads and other social media diatribes across the internet. Legitimately traumatized by imbalanced religious power structures, many ex-fundamentalists attack believers and beliefs, debunking, debasing and demoralizing the whole. It’s almost as though ex-believers are defending themselves against their own ex-belief. Regardless, the defense is enacted against those who still believe–who still attempt to adhere to the dictates of the original authority structure.
Recall, if you will, fundamentalist believers are struggling to not only convince the world that their version of God holds absolute power, but to convince themselves. They are driven by fight or flight impulses, replete with emotion and lacking in reason. In the same way, deconverted ex-evangelists struggle to validate their de-conversion. They are not only attempting to justify the transition to the old group, but also to themselves.
In consequence, heated debates riddled with insult and injury abound on social media spaces, as vehement believers and vehement non-believers wrangle over whose authority should prevail over all. The fight is rooted in a false belief—on both sides—that a pure, undivided, rational authority exists. It is rooted in the need for universal authority, as insecure subjects fear the disaster and doom that is certain to befall, were they to embrace desire and affirm internal conviction, in the face of vast public scrutiny.
Thus, our friend, the believer, who rejected her primary authority, has substituted her former god with a surrogate. She is now engaged in a repetition of the initial trauma, and until she recognizes the failure in this replacement authority, she will persist in her aggressive defense against the former god, in the name of the new.
I know from experience that this cycle wraps round itself repeatedly—not just a second time, but over, and over, and over again. For me, it was manifest as I traded my membership to a Non-denominational church for membership to a Seeker Friendly church, and then to a Calvinist Presbyterian church.
Because the fundamentalist doctrine of the Non-denominational congregation (rooted in the Pentecostal tradition) was too cumbersome for me to bear, I withdrew and found a fitting substitute in the Seeker Friendly congregation.
So I thought.
The Seeker Friendly church valued social justice with fervor—the demand to do became just as unbearable as the demand to believe. Thus, I downgraded to yet another denomination. This time, the emphasis was grace, and the approach to doctrine seemed far more intellectual. Nevertheless, the community norms greatly conflicted with and agitated my intuitive nature.
Eventually, I discovered that the reason the demands of each church were too cumbersome was because each church claimed absolute authority, each claimed to have the keys required to unlock the salvation experience, and with each of those keys in hand, plugged into their respective mates, I failed to turn a single lock.
Yet churches are not the only organizations claiming to have the solution to all life’s problems. Marketers, corporations, clubs, fads, trends, etc…are all guilty of the same. As humans, we seek authority. We crave it, and we attach ourselves to that which provides the most comfort or validation for our existence. However, no single authority is worthy to dictate how we all lead our personal lives. The only worthy candidate for leadership and responsibility is the autonomous mind. Unfortunately, the journey to autonomy is isolate, rigorous, and full of pain. It is for the individual subject to decide: is it worth the cost?
I think you know my answer.